Still Life Painting in the Studio

After spending most of this year on landscapes I'm ready to take a break and try something different.

For the past few months I've been thinking about what I should work on over the winter and I've come around to the idea of doing some still life projects. I think they will be a good way to develop my techniques, in particular my use of color in layers and abstraction of forms: it always pays off to paint from life. This post describes the second painting in the series.

Since I've done very few still life works, I'm expecting this to be a bit of a rocky ride. Blogging my way through a few of the paintings might just end up being a way to show you how to mess up, but at least I'll be able to show you how I got there.

Day 1: Setting Up

My best idea so far was to use a pochade box as a display platform.

The lighting looked best for this particular scene when it was placed next to the window with the studio overheads turned off. The natural light creates a manageable value range, although it makes my studio rather dark.

My canvas is to the right and my palette is located just to the left of the tripod, so it's a good arrangement.

A still life set up in the painting studio

Working with natural window light


A simple still life composition

Still life set-up approximately as it will appear in the painting

I used an old cast iron milk pan as the center piece because it would be a challenge to paint. The lemons provide contrast without making it too pretty. 

I spread everything out on some raw linen to help unify the scene. After that, I played around with the composition to find an arrangement that I liked.

StartingMassing in a painting

The basic massing in is done

The rest of the day was spent getting the basic composition down on the canvas using a massing-in approach.

The benefit of starting this way is that I won't end up doing a painting by filling in between the lines—I will have to work on the drawing throughout. Doing it this way actually makes painting easier, not harder.

Day 2: Basic Painting

An intermediate stage in a still life painting

Most of the background colors are derived from raw umber plus other colors as needed

Although the initial plan was to toy around with this for a few days, I made good progress and got everything down in one long session.

The only problem is that I got into the thick paint too quickly and used raw umber in all the background areas to boot. My plan to develop this as a multi-layer painting with lots of color variation fell apart.

All is not lost, however. The painting's actually OK—no drawing errors that can't be corrected—and the design is strong. I can just do some tidying up and move on to the next.

Day 3: Finishing Touches

A finished still life painting of a Lodge milk pan and lemons

Milk Pan. 9x12, oil on hemp panel. 2018.

The finishing touches are hard to see—a small amount of refinement to the lip of the pan and some tightening up of the nooks and crannies in the background area.

I decided not to work the painting further. It's reached a good state of completion and any adjustments are more likely to ruin it than make it better.

On to the next!



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